5.4. HUNT AND THE NEW YORK TRIBUNE BUILDING

Richard Morris Hunt, 474-6 Broadway, New York, 1872. (American Architect, July 15, 1876)

Hunt had used a tripartite progression of openings similar to the 1864 Lienau facade, just prior to designing the Coal and Iron Exchange.  In 1872 he had designed his first cast iron front for a small five-story store at 474-6 Broadway. He built upon the cast iron tradition of the multistory arcade by using it in conjunction with Lienau’s progressive layering.  The first two floors were grouped under two, two-story arches.  This spacing was halved at the third and fourth floors by a two-story arcade of four bays.  The openings of the third layer at the fifth floor halved the spacing once again with an arcade of eight bays, completing a sequence of 1:2:4.  Lienau’s subtle corner pavilions were transformed by Hunt into clearly articulated elements by continuous verticals of stacked pilasters.  This resulted in an unfortunate restlessness between the end verticals and the deep horizontal banding in the middle that was only compounded by Hunt’s bold polychromatic display of red, blue, white, black, and yellow.

Richard Morris Hunt, Study for the New York Tribune Building, New York, 1873. (Online)

Only a few months after designing the Coal and Iron Exchange, Hunt won the competition in early 1873 to design the new Tribune building on Nassau and Spruce Streets, fronting Printing House Square.  In this early scheme that contained eight floors Hunt had extended the smooth-surfaced, red pressed brick and stone language of the Coal and Iron Exchange Building into a lyrical triple layer progression with a tower 30 feet taller than Post’s Western Union Building.  Like the Coal and Iron Exchange, a rusticated granite base and a steep dormered Mansard roof sandwiched the three middle horizontal layers.  However, in this scheme Hunt experimented with the three layers so that they were also vertically sequenced into a 3:2:1 rhythm in the number of floors in each layer, that reinforced the window width progression of 1:2:4.  The resulting visual foreshortening enhanced the original continuous vertical thrust of the tower for, instead of placing the tower on the roof of the building’s body like Post had, Hunt tried to integrate it within the street elevation, thereby expressing its vertical continuity to the ground.  It was a quite handsome design that exuded the very essence of Owen Jones’ ultimate objective for good architecture: repose.

J. Cleveland Cady, Proposed Design for the New York Tribune Building, New York, 1873. (Landau and Condit, New York)

Hunt was not alone in his experiment with stacked arcades because a similar progression had been incorporated in another entry for the Tribune competition.  As Henry-Russell Hitchcock had first noted, J. Cleveland Cady’s proposal stacked arcades in a 3:1:1 rhythm with a 1:2:3 progression.

5.5. JENNEY PARALLELS NEW YORK’S EARLY USE OF THE ARCADE PROGRESSION

William Le Baron Jenney, Mason Building, Chicago, 1872. (Turak, Jenney)

French-trained William Le Baron Jenney also employed the stacked arcade in his first post-fire designs in 1872/3.  His first post-fire design (it appears that it was not constructed) had been the Mason Building in 1872.  In its exterior he employed the traditional compositional device of a 3-by-3 rectilinear grid, placing its entry on axis, creating a central bay with projected pilasters.  Each of the building’s three floors was articulated as a horizontal layer with continuous sillcourses.  Jenney attempted to create a foreshortening effect by creating a progression in the windowheads of each of the floors: the basement with flat lintels, the first-floor sporting segmental arches, the second full-half round arches, and the top floor with pointed arches.  This effect was enhanced in the third floor where Jenney doubled the number of windows within each bay.

William Le Baron Jenney, Post-fire Portland Block, Chicago, 1872. (The Land Owner, June 1873)

Jenney had also used the device of a progression in the shape of the window heads in the Portland Block of 1872.  He arranged the elevations into a raised basement of stone with flat lintels that supported three horizontal layers of two floors each.  Each layer was articulated as a distinct unit by continuous stringcourses in floors three and five.  This was reinforced by his detailing of the intersection of the main piers and intermediate floors in floors four and six that allowed the piers to be read as continuous for two stories.   Jenney’s inexperience as a designer at this early point in his architectural career was apparent in the way the continuous, two-story piers conflicted with his treatment of each floor as an arcade, rather than limiting the arches to only the upper floor in each layer in order to create two-story arcades in each layer.  The vertical accent of the piers was reinforced by the forced perspective created by the decreasing floor heights in the top layer.  This was augmented not only in the increasing of the number of windows (in most bays they were doubled, but a few contained triple windows) in the upper two layers, but also by a subtle vertical progression in the shape of the window heads, from flat in the basement, through segmental and semicircular in the middle, to an elongated pointed profile in the top.

5.6. THE FINAL CONSTRUCTED DESIGN OF THE TRIBUNE BUILDING

Richard Morris Hunt, New York Tribune Building, Final Design, New York, 1873. (Online)

However, even though Hunt had used the avant-garde motif of superimposed arcades in a diminishing progression in his initial design for the Tribune building, it was not incorporated in the building’s more conservative final design.  Hunt kept the general parti of the granite base, the 3:2:1 sequence for the middle three layers, and the Second Empire mansard roof.  However, the compositional progression of multistory arcades of the earlier scheme was replaced by a structural rectilinear grid of colossal continuous pilasters at the corners, in line with the tower, and in between the tower and the left corner.  This broke the elevation into four vertical bays, which, unfortunately, emphasized the asymmetric placement of the tower.  The wall areas between the pilasters were then infilled with three flatheaded windows defined by a rectilinear network of dark red Baltimore pressed brick and light stone accents, whose emphasis was changed in each of the three zones.  The lowest layer of three stories was given a distinct horizontal accent with continuous stone spandrels with a shallow, underscored arches trying to link the pilasters, while the middle two floors contained continuous vertical piers with recessed spandrels.  The uppermost single floor didn’t even use pilasters but opted for a surface within which the windows were carved and flanked by engaged columns.  This curious smorgasbord of treatments in the 170′ high main body was only made more convoluted by the last minute addition of an extra floor, after construction had already begun.

Richard Morris Hunt, New York Tribune Building, New York, 1873. Left: Final Design; Right: Actual Constructed. Arrow points to added floor. (Online)

Therefore, he was forced to put it where it did the least damage, inserting a the new floor at the bottom of the mansard roof, on top of the one-story layer of the progression, that made the final facade to appear extremely top-heavy. The awkwardness of the exterior was only compounded by Hunt’s final detailing of the tower, that extended 30′ higher than the Western Union’s tower to a total height of 260.’  Instead of being detailed as a continuous vertical element from the ground as was done in the earlier study and would have lent an element of consistency as a datum to the design of the otherwise chaotic facade, the tower was detailed to bulge out from the fourth floor on corbels, that only amplified the top-heaviness of the building (and spoke of the influence of Viollet-le-Duc’s latest publication in which such corbelled projections were prominently displayed.

Viollet-le-Duc, design for a 46-meter span polyhedral vaulted hall, employing iron and stone. (Entretiens sur l’Architecture, 1863.)

As actually constructed, the tower seemed to be leaning out, over the rest of the building.  In response to questions about the unresolved quality of the building’s final appearance, Hunt pointed his finger at the newness of such a building type: “the exigencies of the case demanded a new style of architecture – a style which was at once an outgrowth of the country and the demands of the time.”  As the Prussians had brought about the end of the reign of the Second Empire, American commercial forces were beginning to do the same to the Second Empire’s architectural dominance.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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